With the recent spring schedule rollout from Showtime came the revelation of what is now a loaded May 20 for boxing fans. The network is already competing with rival network HBO - which has on that same date Terence Crawford in his World 140-pound championship defense versus Felix Diaz - so its own offering would have to come with putting its best foot forward.
A grand total of four title fights/eliminators spanning two continents is a massive leap in the right direction.
The May 20 evening portion of the show is topped by Gary Russell Jr's oft-rescheduled featherweight title defense versus mandatory challenger Oscar Escandon. Joining the telecast in a live nightcap tripleheader is another title fight as well as a bout that will lead to a shot at a major belt for the winner. The latter part of the equation pits Andre Dirrell in a 12-round showdown versus Jose Uzcategui, with the winner to next face reigning super middleweight titlist James DeGale.
“This fight is a massive step towards my journey to success in 2017,” said Dirrell (25-2, 16KOs), who captured Olympic bronze in the 2004 Athens Games but has come up short in two previous title bids. “To me, this is my championship fight leading up to the rematch with the current champion, James DeGale.
"Jose has all of the tools of a champion, so he’s fierce competition for me. But I will show the world that I’m up for the task. This is my year!”
It will have to be as sadly it's largely been a decade to forget for the 33-year old southpaw. His lone ring appearance of 2016 came in a pedestrian-like 10-round points win over Blake Caparello last April. He will have been out of the ring a full 55 weeks by the time fight night rolls around, an inactive stretch that exceeds his previous hibernation period. Dirrell went into the aforementioned Caparello clash having not fought in 11 months following his heartbreaking loss to DeGale in their May '15 vacant title fight.
Interestingly, his next challenge comes versus an opponent who was due a title shot but was forced out of the picture due to an untimely injury.
Uzcategui (26-1, 22KOs) stormed to the super middleweight title scene after a two-round blitzing of previously unbeaten Julius Jackson in their Oct. '15 final eliminator. His next ring appearance was to come versus DeGale, only for health issues to affect the amount of time he would have needed to enter his mandatory title shot. He was replaced by Rogelio 'Porky' Medina, who was spirited in defeat last April.
Meanwhile. Uzcategui was forced to settle for a stay-busy wins in 2016 while awaiting a second chance at the big time. That moment has now arrived for the 26-year old Venezuelan, who fights out of Mexico.
“I’m very excited to be facing a fighter the quality of Andre Dirrell,” said Uzcategui. “These are the types of fights that I’ve wanted and I look forward to coming out victorious. This fight will be another step on the way to my dream of becoming a world champion.”
Opening up the telecast, Rances Barthelemy (25-0, 13KOs) looks to take the first step toward becoming a three-division champion as he faces Kiryl Relikh (21-1, 19KOs) in a 12-round eliminator. The winner will become a mandatory challenger to Julius Indongo, who recently unified two super lightweight titles following a 12-round virtual shutout of Ricky Burns this past weekend in Glasgow, Scotland.
Whomever prevails will have to wait in line behind Sergey Lipinets, who is the next order of business for Indongo as the number-one contender to one of his other titles. Given that they've accepted this opportunity, it's clear that both boxers are fine with whatever the future has in store.
“I’m very excited to be back in the ring, especially on Showtime against a top-ranked contender in Kiryl Relikh,” said Barthelemy, a Miami-based Cuban boxer and former two-division titlist whose last bout was a 12-round win over Mickey Bey in his lone lightweight titlist last May. “This victory will get me one step closer to fulfilling my dream of becoming the first Cuban to win world titles in three different weight classes. I’m very motivated and I will not be denied on May 20.”
Of course, his opponent plans to have something to say about that.
“I’m thrilled to have this opportunity in a world title eliminator,” said Relikh, whose lone loss came in his last fight as the 27-year old Belarusian dropped a 12-round decision to Burns in their title fight last December. “Rances Barthelemy is a good fighter, but my experience at this weight will help me get the victory. I’m ready to do whatever it takes to get this win and eventually wear that world title belt around my waist.”
The live tripleheader is preceded by Saturday matinee coverage of Gervonta Davis' first defense of his 130-pound belt versus Liam Smith, which airs live from Copper Box Arena in London, England.